Archive for November, 2012

Grand Wines of Bordeaux

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Bordeaux –  the region that winos love to hate on, yet can’t deny their absolute inner love for.  No matter how much one could say that Bordeaux wines are over-classified and overrated, one would have a very difficult time refuting how truly amazing these wines can be.  Advanced Level Certified Sommelier and General Manager of Meteor Vineyard Jason Alexander popped into the SF Wine Center to share his take on this first-class region.  Like children sitting near the Christmas tree ready to dig into their presents, this class full of Bordeaux enthusiasts anxiously awaited their chance to taste an absolutely epic wine list including the 100-point scoring Château Montrose 1990, recently promoted to Premier Grand Cru Classé A (Bordeaux’s highest classification) Château L’Angelus, the highly rated Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1986, and many more.  Here’s a taste of what we learned…

Bordeaux has been dubbed with some rather unfair stigmas such as being both overrated and only as good as its vintage.  So what exactly indicates a good vintage?  Technically, it’s the ideal synergy of a frost-free period of budburst and flowering, a nice long season of growing and ripening, followed by a climatically stable and rainless harvest season.  The outcome from such a trifecta of ideal conditions results in superb ripeness of fruit, vivacious acidity, and remarkably complex aromatics; all of which blissfully harmonize into wines that will age for decades, and in some cases, a century.  And by this equation, the world has come to idealize certain showstopping vintages such as 1990 in Haut-Médoc and Sauternes, 2000 throughout Bordeaux, and the recent history-making 2009 and 2010.  But what some may forget is that it doesn’t mean all other vintages are necessarily bad, many of them have just been overshadowed by the higher ranked years.  Of the wines we tasted, some of the “off” vintages turned out to be some of the best wines in the lineup.  Excellent examples were the Château Léoville-Las-Cases  1981 from Saint-Julien, Château L’Angelus 1985 from Saint-Emilion, and Château Haut Brion 1994 from Pessac-Leognan.  Although these off-vintage wines may have expressed a somewhat different style and or progression, it doesn’t argue the fact that they are drinking magnificently.  So at the end of the day when it comes to the wines of Bordeaux, beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder.

-Julie Albin

Wine List

  1. Pavillon Blanc du Chateau Margaux 2005 –  Margaux
  2. Château Léoville-Las-Cases 1981 – Saint-Julien
  3. Château L’Angelus 1985 – Saint-Emilion
  4. Château Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande 1986 – Pauillac
  5. Château Hosanna 2008 – Pomerol
  6. Château Montrose 1990 – Saint Estèphe
  7. Château Haut Brion 1994 – Pessac-Leognan
  8. Château Léoville-Poyferré 2000 – Saint-Julien
  9. Château Filhot 1990 – Sauternes

Extreme Sonoma Coast

Monday, November 19th, 2012

As the filming location of Alfred Hitchcock’s blockbuster suspense thriller The Birds, the Sonoma Coast of Northern California is no stranger to peculiar undertakings.  With its rugged coastline, chilling climate and eerie layer of fog that rolls in day after day, this is by far California’s most mystifying wine region.  Earning its AVA status in 1987, this rather large region is both unique with several sub-climates and breathtakingly picturesque with some of its vineyards lining the slopes that overlook the Pacific Ocean.  Specializing in Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and even cool-climate Syrah, the extreme Sonoma Coast has been charming more and more wine lovers with its complex and inarguably well –balanced wines.  2011 James Beard award-winning author and wine writer for SF Magazine Jordan Mackay stopped by the SF Wine Center and took the liberty of feeding a class full of thirsty minds with the insider lowdown on this incredible region.  The class was thrilled to taste some of the area’s benchmark producers such as Hirch Vineyards, Cobb, Kosta Browne, and many more.  Here’s a taste of what we learned…

Simply stated, there is a reason why the Sonoma Coast is so mysterious.  With its intense climate conditions, thick fogline, and receiving over double the amount of rain as neighboring regions, as far as the grapes go, this region is risky business.  One could even wonder how grapes ever fully ripen here.  Believe it or not, this area actually receives enough warmth to successfully ripen these grapes, especially if the vineyards are located above the dense fogline.  Furthermore, with a long cool growing season and harvest taking place from October to November, the grapes are able to ingeniously produce wines with true varietal characteristics and some of the purest expressions of terroir.  And with a complete balance of intense fruit, vibrant acidity, and utter complexity, these ageworthy and food-friendly wines are winning the hearts of restaurants and wine lovers across the globe.  Robert Parker even went so far as to describe the Sonoma Coast as the region “where world class Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays are being made that are every bit as complex and complete as the greatest wines in France.”  That being said, it is clear to us that in life there comes a time when risks must be taken for a much greater good.  The extreme Sonoma Coast AVA alongside some of the world’s most skillful and adventurous winemakers has proven itself to be well worth the risk.

-Julie Albin

Wine List

  1. Failla Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2011
  2. Kistler Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast Chardonnay 2007
  3. Flowers Frances Thompson Vineyard Sonoma Coast Estate Pinot Noir 2007
  4. Nickel & Nickel Spring Hill Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2007
  5. Cobb Rice-Spivak Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2008
  6. Kosta Browne Kanzler Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir 2008
  7. Peay Pomarium Sonoma Coast Estate Pinot Noir 2008
  8. Peter Michael Ma Danseuse Sonoma Coast Estate Pinot Noir 2009
  9. Hirsch Vineyards East Ridge Sonoma Coast Estate Pinot Noir 2010

The Three Big B’s of Italy

Monday, November 12th, 2012

And life gets more exciting with each passing day.

And love is either in your heart, or on its way.

These lyrics from the classic Frank Sinatra ballad “Young At Heart” are a perfect descriptor for the ageless wines of the Italian trifecta; Barolo, the nearby Barbaresco, and Tuscany’s kingpin known as Brunello di Montalcino.  Many wine lovers would agree that they are utterly mystified by the fascinating world of these three Big B’s of Italy.  Italian native Mauro Cirilli recently returned to the San Francisco Wine Center to enlighten some of them on the captivating matter. Previously working as a Sommelier at prestigious hotels and restaurants throughout Italy, Mauro is currently the Wine Director of Press Club in San Francisco and also heads the newly formed North American Sommelier Association.  With the help of a marvelous lineup of wines including producers such as Gaja, Vietti, Poggio Antico, and several more, Mauro led the class on an enchanting exploration of these three regions and both the classic and modern styles that are produced there.  Here’s a taste of what we learned…

Barolo presents the most dramatic and dense expressions of the Nebbiolo grape that are known by their pronounced tannin and acidity, as well as a rich body and aromas of roses and tar.  As some of the world’s most ageable wines, it can take upwards of 15 years or more before these can be pleasantly enjoyable to the human palate.  What many found most intriguing in our lineup of wines was the 1990 Parusso Barolo Mariondino.  Upon first opening the bottle, pouring a bit into a glass, then smelling and tasting the wine, it appeared to have this pungent and acerbic acidity that radiated from the glass.  At first whiff, it seemed like this wine was not only passed its prime, but had already crossed into the afterlife of wine.  Mauro then poured himself a small glass and put it up to his nose, swirled, smelled again, and preceded to taste.  With a marveled expression on his face, he reassured everyone to let the wine breath for a few minutes and that all would soon be understood.  After tasting through a large portion of the wines on the list, we finally met again with the Parusso.  To our astonishment, that sharp acid was no longer but instead a flurry of earthy minerals and dried fruit aromas waltzed into our noses and onto our palates.  It was as if this wine was not dead at all but very alive with maturity and supple grace.  After seeing everyone’s expression while tasting this wine, Mauro looked pleased.  In his attempt to explain this less than subtle phenomenon, he simply said, “See, he’s not dead… Just tired and needed a moment to wake up and express himself.”

-Julie Albin

Wine List

1.   Marchesi di Gresy Barbaresco “Martinenga” 2007

2.   Bruno Rocca Barbaresco “Coparossa” 1996

3.   Gaja Barbaresco 1988

4.   Luigi Einaudi Barolo Terlo 2006

5.   Vietti Barolo Brunate 2005

6.   Parusso Barolo Mariondino 1990

7.   Poggio Antico “Altero” Brunello di Montalcino 2007

8.   Fattoria dei Barbi Brunello di Montalcino 2004

9.   Altesino Brunello di Montalcino 1993

The Great Whites of Burgundy

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

As everyone’s favorite day of the week, what could be the best possible cure for a case of the “Mondays”?  If you asked a few doctors, they may very well prescribe you a dose of some fantastic white Burgundy!  Okay, probably not, but we’d dare them to find a better treatment than that!

Lead Wine Instructor at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley and former Wine Director of award-winning restaurants Quince and Gary Danko, Christie Dufault stepped up to the plate and led the class on an amazing exploration of what’s easily argued as the world’s best white wines; aka the majestic Chardonnays of Burgundy.

If there is one word to describe the wines of Burgundy, ‘complex’ doesn’t even cut it.  Christie enlightened the class on a broad range of insights into the complicated puzzle that is Burgundy.  One concept that the class felt was quite interesting is how the wines are classified and how that ties into their quality.  For example, unlike Bordeaux where the classifications are ranked by producer, in Burgundy they are ranked by vineyard site.  So within Burgundy, the highest classification is Grand Cru which is wine produced from the very best vineyard sites.  Just below that is Premier Cru which is produced from particular vineyard sites that are still considerably high quality, but just not regarded as high as Grand Cru.  That being said, not all Grand Cru wines are created equal.  This is where the importance of the producer comes in.  Now although Grand Cru Burgundy wine is called that for highly valid reasons, it is not completely uncommon for the wines of an extraordinary producer using fruit from Premier Cru vineyards to be of noticeably better quality than the wines of a good producer using Grand Cru fruit. This is a prime example of how classification systems in Burgundy typically are, but won’t always be the final say as far as quality.

Digest all that?  A lot to take in, we know.  And although Burgundy is no stranger to intricate systems, one fact still holds true.  There is a legitimate reason why the world has, does, and will continue to truly love Burgundy.  Why?  The answers, complicated as may be, are all right there in the bottle.

My Favorite Wine of the Evening?

Domaine Lucien Le Moine Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru ” Folatières” 2004

A voluptuous body with a kick of acid that is so pleasantly characterisitic of Puligny, this gracefully maturing wine displays aromas of cooked celery, artichoke, yellow apple, cinnamon, white pepper, and nice long almond finish.

Thanks to Christie and Brian for the best ending to a Monday, ever!

-Julie Albin

Wine List

  1. Domaine Jean-Marc Brocard Chablis Les Clos Grand Cru 2009
  2. Domaines  Leflaive Macon Verze 2010
  3. Domaine Coche-Dury Bourgogne Blanc 2009
  4. Domaine Michel Gros Hauts Cotes de Nuits Blanc 2008
  5. Domaine de la Vougeraie Vougeot Clos du Prieuré 2002
  6. Domaine Bernard Morey Chassagne Montrachet 1er Cru ” Les Caillerets” 2000
  7. Domaine Latour-Giraud Meursault Genevrières 1er Cru 2001
  8. Domaine Lucien Le Moine Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru ” Folatières” 2004
  9. Domaine Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne Grand Cru 1996
  10. Domaine Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru ” Les Combettes” 1997